Zhang Huan (b. 1965)
Zhang Huan (b. 1965)

Chinese Flag No. 1

Zhang Huan (b. 1965)
Chinese Flag No. 1
signed, titled in Chinese and dated 'Chinese Flag Zhang Huan 2007, No. 1' (on the reverse)
ash on canvas
63 x 99 in. (160 x 251.5 cm.)
Executed in 2007.
Courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery
New York, Asia Society and Vancouver Art Gallery, Zhang Huan: Altered States, September 2007-October 2008, p. 163 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Zhang Huan's performances, sculptures, drawings, and photo-based works, including several prominent public commissions, have earned him a reputation as one of the leading artists working today. Across these different media, the artist probes existential questions about humanity and spirituality, often engaging directly with Chinese culture and Buddhist thought and iconography.

Born in 1965 in Anyang, a town in the Henan Province of China, Zhang Huan's earliest performances from the beginning of the 1990s were some of the first of their kind in his country. They often led to physical and mental exhaustion and some involved exposing his own body to painful and fear-provoking elements: one notable example was 12m2 (1994), where the artist, smothered in honey and fish oil, enclosed himself in a public lavatory full of flies. Other performances were direct responses to his natural environment, and include To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain (1995), in which he asked participants to lie naked atop one another to add a meter's height to a mountain, and To Raise the Water in a Fishpond (1997), which, following a similar line of thought, involved raising the water level in a fishpond by inviting friends into the water. Visually striking photographic
documentation often accompanied these performances.

Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution was initiated in 1966, the year after the artist was born, but its impact was waning by the end of the 1970s and Zhang Huan's generation was the first to grow up with increasing Western influences. He moved to New York in 1998, which coincided with his art recognition, and in 2006 he moved back to live in Shanghai. The contrast between the old and the new, and between East and West, underpins his practice, including the present work.

Chinese Flag No. 1 depicts a wavy gray-toned flag made by dusting incense ash across the linen surface. The ash was gathered from Buddhist temples near Shanghai and sorted according to its color and density. The artist has also used the material to create a series of paintings in the shape of vintage photographs from the Cultural Revolution, and for his sculptural work. As he notes, "According to tradition,ash is buried or put into the lake and ocean. Nowadays the ash must go into the rubbish so that it does not pollute the environment. The first day I got ash in my studio I was very excited. I felt as if I had found the right material for me."1

It is difficult, if not impossible, to make out the details that characterize the Chinese flag in Chinese Flag No. 1. Devoid of color, it appears like a monochrome, blank canvas awaiting decoration. Zhang Huan has also recreated the American flag with incense ash. Whether he is referring to his native country or to his temporary homeland for a number of years, there is a ceremonial weight to the series and a marked sense of history and reminiscence.

1Zhang Huan, cited in Melissa Chiu, "Altered Art: Zhang Huan," published on www.zhanghuan.com (also published in Melissa Chiu, Zhang Huan: Altered States. Exh.cat. (New York: Charta and Asia Society, 2007)).

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